14/10/22 – 20/11/22 212 km
Week 12 marked my transition to ‘Peregrino’. The remainder of ‘Mi Vuelta’ will see me follow no fewer than five separate ‘Caminos’ (Pilgrimages to Santiago) as I aim to arrive in Barcelona, my new finish line, before the end of February.
Initially I had planned to finish the walk by crossing the Pyrenees, however, as I will arrive there in mid-winter it has become increasingly apparent that this option is out of the question. Despite all of the walking experience I have gained over the previous five years, I do not consider myself capable of scaling glaciers and nor do I want to…yet!
The majority of Monday morning was spent running errands in Sevilla, and what a backdrop it offered! I was last here during Semana Santa (Easter) and I must confess I found the parades and crowds somewhat overwhelming. The pace of the city at this time of year was certainly much more to my liking.
My main purchases were a fleece and a pair of light trousers from Decathlón. I had been warned by someone in the Hostel, who had recently completed the Via de la Plata (Sevilla – Santiago), that temperatures would drop significantly when I crossed the border into Extremadura.
I spent the remainder of the day drinking beer with a couple of Scandinavian guys who were staying in the same Hostel. It was so nice to do something normal, even if it was just for a few hours!
The next day I woke up early in preparation for the first Etapa (stage) which would see me walk twenty kilometers north to Guillena. However, I didn’t leave until after 11am as it was raining torrentially. Finally, after my tenth coffee, the rain subsided and I headed out of the city. It was great to be on the road again and even better to feel that I was now around the halfway stage of my trip. Every step I took would bring me closer to home!
As always the walk out of the city was unremarkable, the industrial wastelands were flooded. After following the river for a few kilometers I was forced to walk a muddy path into the countryside. It was hard going with my boots weighed down by the mud. Eventually, the trail improved and I soon gathered momentum as I followed a never-ending path towards my first stop.
I would now be staying in a network of Albuergues that serve the pilgrims as they journey towards Santiago. I had the first one to myself and spent a lazy evening exploring the graffiti that covered the walls. Some of the artwork was seriously impressive.
I left the next morning around 8am. It was raining! I had had so much luck with the weather so far. It was bound to happen sooner or later. I’d have preferred later. The route out of town took me along a waterlogged path where I was again collecting mud. Every step felt as if I were wearing shoes made of lead! Eventually, I arrived at a village where I took refuge over a coffee and waited for the rain to stop. It didn’t!
After accepting my fate I had no choice but to continue. The next section was on the road and would take me into a Natural Park. I was grateful for the firm surface however the walking was boring! After around 15km I turned into the park where I was greeted by deer, pigs, and at one point flanked by a baby wild boar. The views were spectacular however the final climb was brutal.
When I reached the peak of the hill I finally saw the town of Almadén de la Plata where I would sleep that night. I shared the Albergue with a couple of Dutch women who cooked me a lovely dinner. It was wonderful to be able to speak to people again after two days of solitude.
The next morning I was up at the crack of dawn and on the road before it was light. I had a big day ahead. As I left the village I stopped to photograph the ruins of a castle that marked the border with Extremadura and took me back into the Natural Park. After the recent rain the vegetation was luscious and green and I spent most of the morning wading through fields of Pata Negra pigs, famously reared to make jamón ibérico.
Armed with my new poles, recently collected in Sevilla I was no longer scared of such beasts, however, I did have one iffy moment as I entered a field whilst munching on an apple! The landscape was stunning and as I climbed out of the park an adult boar ran across the path in front of me. It was massive!
The path then followed the motorway for the rest of the day before arriving at Monesterio. After a quick shower, I found myself a quiet corner, where I conducted a live interview on Talk Radio Europe. It was a lovely experience although I am slightly disappointed that it had no impact on donations. A massive thank you to Paul for putting me in contact with them!
I left the next day around 8am and spent most of the morning ‘picking off’ pilgrims as they struggled to get used to their large packs. It was a lovely feeling to know that after 79 Days I was walking faster than ever. I was beginning to fall in love with the scenery and the green in particular. I will definitely return to this part of the country if I ever need to feel like I am in the UK. The resemblance was striking. I only walked 20km that day and spent the night in a Pensíon.
The next day the weather turned. I left the building around 8am and it was 4°c. I hadn’t felt this cold for a long time and I was wearing nearly everything I owned. Thank goodness I had been to Decathlón. That said I really enjoyed walking into the mist and again, it was a lovely reminder of home! Eventually, the sun burnt through the low-lying fog and I was back to walking in shorts and t-shirt.
The rest of the day saw me walk through open farmland where I watched endless birds of prey circling overhead. I must learn how to identify them. After 44km I arrived in Villafranca de los Barros where I would again stay in a Pensíon. Rustic doesn’t come close. It was Baltic inside and I was happy to leave the next day. That said, I was well looked after and very grateful for my free breakfast. It was ordered by a committee of locals who slowly bullied the bartender into making me a tostada. I certainly wasn’t complaining!
It was cold again but nothing like the previous day. After the initial slog getting out of town I spent Sunday morning following an endlessly straight path that intersected a series of vineyards for around twenty kilometers. The fields were full of hunters, each armed with a shotgun. I was on full alert!
After what felt like an age I arrived at Torremejía where I stopped for lunch. The walk out of town was one of the worst stretches of the entire walk as I desperately tried to escape the smell of methane seeping out of the local dump. As the smell dissipated I completed the final stretch into Mérida. Stopping only once to fend off two rabid dogs who ambushed me from the long grass. They were ferocious but nothing I couldn’t handle with my new poles.
The entrance into Mérida was beautiful as I crossed the Roman bridge and followed the river down to an old watermill that had been converted into an Albergue. After over two hundred kilometers I had completed my first week on the Camino however I must confess I am slightly worried about the weather – winter is coming!